"Jonathan Rowden is a name to watch as a signature voice and self-motivated organizer on the Los Angeles jazz scene." –Joe Woodard, Downbeat Magazine
Almost immediately following his bold 2014 debut, Becoming, saxophonist and composer Jonathan Rowden dove into writing a follow-up album that would continue the aesthetic and spiritual progression that defines his music. Teaming up with friend and pianist Ryan Pryor, they composed music that launched a two-year conceptual transformation, culminating in the Jonathan Rowden Group’s new release on Orenda Records, Skyward Eye.
“Becoming felt like this visceral, raw expression; tumultuous, impassioned and often freewheeling in spirit,” says Rowden. “However, as the new music churned within us, we knew we wanted to take an entirely different approach not only to the music of Skyward Eye, but to the process of making the music from the ground up.”
Alex Chaloff, who has recorded all of Rowden’s music and films since 2013, described the recording experience in their video documentary mini-series, Making Skyward Eye. “Good music is extremely visual and [though it] transports you into another world sonically, you’re being drawn by the visual, whether your eyes are closed or not. If you feel like you're on top of a mountain, you’ll hear a song and you'll feel a cold breeze come past, you know…it puts you right there.” He went on. “These aren't one or two minute solos where we're 'taking you somewhere'... no, we're REALLY taking you somewhere. These songs have really taken on a life of their own and take you on a visceral journey.”
The inspiration in literature, video games and all things now called “nerd-culture” runs deep. For the first 19 years of Rowden’s life, he was obsessed with fantasy worlds found in mediums like video game RPG’s of the 1990’s, where he found a certain depth in the idea that one could literally take control of the characters and live out one’s life through these characters and their experiences. As a child, he immersed himself in drawing, writing, creating universes, cultures, worlds, characters, and mythologies. In this respect, Skyward Eye represents his first literal parallel from his early and deep interests in these other mediums. These interests aligned with the talents of New York Times bestselling author and graphic novelist, Kazu Kibuishi, whose works such as ‘Flight’ inspired much of Skyward Eye’s ethos.
For Rowden, the artwork Kazu Kibuishi created for Skyward Eye is inseparable from the music. After a chance encounter, Rowden reached out to Kazu, who was immediately interested in collaboration. Their first collaboration was in the summer of 2014 where Kibushi painted a massive digital mural during a live performance of Becoming. Two years later, he agreed to create the original artwork for the Skyward Eye album covers, as well as an inner mural and art-book edition.
Jonathan Rowden and his band expressly hope people connect with a sense of spirituality in their music: “that willingness to reach beyond oneself, and embody a larger sense of what it means to be ‘part of all this’ embracing a certain amount of uncertainty, or mystery surrounding it all. In this way, our music is spiritual… The escape doesn’t have to mean running from your quest - a righteous quest can open doors you never saw until you crossed a different bridge, or climbed a different mountain. I am reminded of this little dialogue from the Super Nintendo Role Playing Game “Chrono Trigger”, when a young scientist names Lucca, having been transported through time and thrown in prison on a quest to restore time and order, finds that their robotic companion Robo has been badly damaged and attempts to bring it ‘back to life’.
Robo: [visibly shaken] “C…can you r…repair…me?
Lucca: “Shh, don’t talk” [while fixing him]
Robo: “You…are trying to save our world?”
Lucca: “I don’t know how far we’ll get, but that’s the plan. Anyway Robo, what are you
going to do when you’re repaired?”
Robo: “What am I…going to do?”
Lucca: “Yeah. I mean, what plans do you have for the future?”
Robo: “Lucca, no one has ever asked me that before!”
For Rowden, Skyward Eye asks this simple but challenging question. “What will you do once you lift yourself up, out of the mire - your eyes turned towards the vastness - and see the adventure before you?”
1. The Dawn of Reclamation 05:17
2. Song of Hiraeth 00:49
3. Ruins 08:21
4. Flight 05:09
5. The Wait 06:03
6. Floating Isle 05:56
7. Carried By The Song 06:06
8. Flight Afield 01:55
Jonathan Rowden tenor & soprano saxophones / electronics / vocals
Ryan Pryor piano / rhodes / synths / vocals
James Yoshizawa drumset / taiko / percussion / vocals